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The Films of Kenneth Lonergan

You Can Count on Me

Margaret (October 5/11)

An interminable mishmash of a motion picture, Margaret follows New York City-based teenager Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) as she inadvertently causes the death of a random bystander (Allison Janney's Monica) in a gruesome traffic accident - with the traumatic event subsequently forcing Lisa to question everything she thought she knew about her life and her beliefs. Filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan has infused the early part of Margaret with the feel of a low-key character study, as the emphasis is consistently placed on the protagonist's day-to-day exploits and her continuing encounters with the various folks in her life (including her mother, an up-and-coming stage actress, and several of her teachers, including Matt Damon's Mr. Aaron and Matthew Broderick's John). The watchable yet sedate vibe persists right up until the aforementioned accident rolls around, with the electrifying, downright wrenching nature of this sequence - which boasts a seriously impressive turn from Janney - injecting the proceedings with a much-needed (though short-lived) burst of energy. From there, Margaret slowly-but-surely morphs into an increasingly (and incongruously) sprawling epic that's bursting with needless subplots - with Lonergan's head-scratching decision to focus on the comings and goings of several periphery characters testing the viewer's patience on a frequently ongoing basis. (Examples of this include Lisa's mother's relationship with a polite businessman and Lisa's progressively acrimonious dealings with Monica's grieving best friend.) The meandering atmosphere only grows more and more problematic as the bloated narrative unfolds, with the 150-minute running time (!) ensuring that Margaret fizzles out long before it reaches its admittedly affecting climax. It is, as such, not surprising to note that what should have been a tight, straight-forward drama about guilt and redemption is instead an ambitious yet hopelessly cluttered mess of epic proportions, which is a shame, certainly, since the film does boast at its center an absolutely enthralling performance from star Paquin.

out of

© David Nusair